Monday, 28 September 2020


Isn’t the word “down” depressing? You feel down…you are downcast or run down or you have a meltdown. Yet it’s le mot du jour. The government got the lowdown from the scientists and have decided to crack down on the virus by declaring a lockdown which is leading to an economic breakdown. Despite Tory backbenchers pleading that they climb down the government’s resolute and with that majority can’t realistically be brought down. But we are heading for a showdown and  someone will probably have to stand down. It’s all been a terrible let down.

That’s it: I’m done with down.

Most of my working life (I don’t work now, I just have fun thinking, writing and mentoring) was spent on communicating and on creating nuanced pieces of persuasion. Most brands of any worth have been skilfully created and communicated but the government’s communication in contrast recently has been somewhat cack-handed. Nicola Sturgeon, not one of life’s great orators, is as Maggie Smith to Frankie Howard when compared to the Prime Minister. Bad as the Scottish Covid figures are (worse than England’s and getting even worse) she communicates control and certainty and we trust her. It’s a class act.

Persuading people to do “the right thing” is not easy. It requires subtlety, more “please” than “don’t.” Helen Rumbelow, the Times journalist, had this pleasing insight from a teacher at Michaela School in North London which is rated the strictest school in Britain. She said going into a rowdy room and shouting at the ringleader “shut up and sit down!” works less well than “pop yourself down over there now.” The word “pop” has a nice sense of friendly spontaneity “we’re just popping over to see our grandchildren”; “pop the kettle on;” ”something interesting has just popped up.”

These are not easy times for politicians but who taught them that staying on message meant behaving like a parrot who knows very few words and constantly repeats them: “hands, face, space”?  I can’t imagine Ken Clarke, Chris Patten or John Smith behaving so foolishly or irritatingly.

These are not easy times for the BBC either reflecting on their uncertain future. They are constantly being given knowing, sarcastic winks by cabinet ministers rather like a judge back in hanging times fondling the black cap with grim anticipatory relish. But they are sadly authors of their own misfortunes. 

(Quentin Tarantino has had enough of a typical interview)

Like the Today Programme’s aggressive interrupters, Nick, Justin and Martha. Increasingly I find theirs is no way to start a positive day. They’re often just being rude. In contrast the new Times Radio has some cheerful, relaxed, funny positive people like Stig Abell and Aasmah Mir who are happy to let politicians talk without interruption. It’s much less stressful.

However when Richard Madely abruptly terminated an interview with Gavin Williamson it was decisive and appropriate rather than gratingly intrusive. Williamson ignored Madeley’s twice repeated question as to whether Williamson regretted saying “Why don’t the Russians shut up and go away?” as if it hadn’t been asked. So he was turned off. 

Am I down in the dumps? Not at all. We have a “winter of discontent” to come but like Shakespeare’s play we can anticipate thereafter “a glorious summer”. And to help us through the next months here are some insults Shakespeare created. We might need them:

 - Thou elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog! ...

- Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat's-tongue, bull's-pizzle, you stock-  fish! ...

- Thou art a boil, a plague sore. ...

- Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon


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